Reform was the watchword of the day as newly reappointed Prime Minister Hun Sen delivered an expansive and record-breaking speech to the newly formed Council of Ministers that lasted nearly six and a half hours.
Among other things, Hun Sen touched upon reforms to the civil service, the judiciary, infrastructure and utilities – reforms that analysts and the opposition deemed unlikely – while at the same time defending his Cambodian People’s Party’s election victory and threatening to release damning recordings of opposition president Sam Rainsy should he continue calling for protests.
“Reforms are the top priority for Cambodia, and the country will continue deepening reforms in all fields in order to increase competition, to sustain economic growth and to reduce poverty,” the premier, speaking at the Peace Palace, said. “Deep reforms will be focused on legal and judicial reforms, anti-corruption, good governance and land and forest management.”
He even went so far as to call on government officials to hold a public forum between civil servants, citizens, the private sector and NGOs in the interest of giving “people the right to point their fingers at ministers or officials” who abuse their positions.
“There will be no tolerance for any misbehaving ministers in this term,” he said.
Defending the decision to convene parliament without the participation of the Cambodia National Rescue Party – and also deflecting what he characterised as the criticisms of foreign governments – Hun Sen maintained that the new government’s legitimacy had been secured by the King, and needed no other approval.
“For us, recognising or not recognising the legitimacy of the government [doesn’t matter]. Not the secretary-general of the United Nations, nor any foreign country, nor the diplomats in Phnom Penh, nor any other president of any country called for the first session of the National Assembly, but only the King [did],” he said. “We are [legitimately] sitting here because of the King.”
Political analyst Kem Ley, however, was sceptical that any meaningful reforms would come to pass, even though those contained in the premier’s speech were worthy.
“I thought that it was a good speech, and I can say [it was] a smart speech, but this reform, I think it will not change anything at all,” he said, adding that he had seen as much in the latest draft of the government’s long-term strategic plan. “I saw and I read the guidelines for the National Strategic Development Plan for 2014 to 2018. It hasn’t changed; nothing has changed from the last four or five [plans].
“I’ve listened to him for 20 years,” Ley added. “I hear the same song sung around the election every year.”
Even with all the lofty talk of reform, the premier found time to sling some political mud at his long-time political adversary, CNRP president Rainsy.
“If he continues to protest, we will post something on Facebook in order to ensure that [people know] what he had said inside the meeting and what he said outside the meeting [are different],” Hun Sen said, referring to closed-door negotiations that took place between the parties last week.
“[Sam Rainsy] said that his party would make a lot of concessions, and stop demanding the formation of the independent investigation committee,” he continued, describing the purported content of the recordings. “Secondly, he said they recognised that the CPP won 68 [seats] and CNRP won 55. He reviewed it many times, and it means that he recognised the official result of the election. Third, he said that his party supported Samdech Hun Sen as premier.”
Hun Sen has threatened to release such leaks in the past, telling Sam Rainsy Party members in November 2011 to “please come pick up” secret recordings of intra-party strife in his offices.
He also obliquely threatened to release documents showing secret conversations between himself and Rainsy, admonishing him “not to forget what you talked with me [about]”.
Responding to the allegations yesterday, Rainsy declined to elaborate on what he had said in last week’s negotiations, but said he would support releasing recordings of the talks in their entirety.
“We will welcome the release of the full extent of the negotiations,” he said. “If one isolated piece is exposed out of context it is misleading.”
Rainsy attributed the rest of Hun Sen’s speech, particularly its focus on reform, to the sharp rebuke of CPP policies delivered at ballot boxes nearly two months ago.
“I think he is in disarray and shock, because after the setback the CPP suffered … they understand that this is a very serious warning from [voters],” he said.
“So they have to at least announce something in order to remain alive, remain relevant, but I think nobody would believe that,” he continued. “Even if he speaks 24 hours non-stop, no one would believe it.”